I told this story to Wes long ago, and he told me that I needed to write it down, that it was worth sharing with young people who are heading off to college, leaving home for the first time, and finding their own way in matters of faith. And maybe it will be helpful to you, if you find yourself in that place in life. Here it is…
When I was fifteen years old, I began living for Christ.
I had believed in Jesus prior to that, but He had no real place in my life. A friend from the marching band shared the Gospel with me, faithfully and persistently, and at the right time, God worked in my life. I bought myself a Bible, began reading, and was completely and forever changed by Jesus.
Doctrinally speaking, though, I was all over the place. Mainly because I couldn’t have even told you what the word “doctrine” meant. Didn’t all churches teach the Bible? Wasn’t the Bible the same no matter where you went? Why so many choices? I was a follower of Jesus, plain and simple, and gave little thought to any of it. I attended a Methodist church because I had been on the Sunday school roster as a little girl, and I assumed that made me a Methodist. So be it.
As I began to look at universities, one of the most exciting prospects of college life was the opportunity to get involved in a campus ministry and become part of a community of like-minded believers. During my visit to the University of Houston, I took my happy little Methodist self to the activities fair at the UC, where the very first person to talk to me was a guy from the Baptist Student Ministry. He handed me a flyer about the kinds of activities the BSM offered and told me all about the New Student Survival Weekend they hosted at the beginning of each semester.
“I’m not Baptist,” I told him. “I’m Methodist.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “You can still come!”
I thought this was quite welcoming and wondered if all Baptists were as friendly. (LOL!)
I put the flyer with all the other information I had gotten and told my parents on the drive back, “I think I’m going to end up going to U of H.” And when they offered me a full academic scholarship a few months later, that settled it. I tucked my scholarship information, my Honors College information, my orientation information, my dorm assignment information, all of it, right there in the folder along with that BSM flyer. When I got to the campus in the fall, I spent a weekend on an Honors College retreat, where I met friends who also were NOT Baptist but who told me they’d come with me to the Baptist Student Ministry building so that I could sign up for this New Student Survival Weekend where I was sure all the other Baptist students would be just as friendly as the guy from the activities fair.
It was so early in the semester that no one was even in the building, apart from the director. And they weren’t even signing people up for the NSSW yet.
“But you know,” the director told me, “we do have something planned for next weekend. A conference. Up in Dallas!”
I looked at the information with him, getting more and more excited about it as I read over it all, and told him, “Well, I’m Methodist. Not Baptist.”
“You should come anyway!,” he said.
And so, I signed up. And my two non-Baptist friends signed up, too, because who doesn’t want to take a road trip their first weekend in college? And because one of them was pre-med and had a lab that didn’t end until 5pm on Friday, we had to drive ourselves up long after the rest of the group had gone up together. And still, we did it. And it ended up being the most amazing weekend, as I met the people who would define my college experience. They were the people who I’d go on mission trips with, the people I would serve on committees with, the people I would go with to share on campus, the people I would stay up with late at night, the people who would be willing to make a 3am trip to Galveston just because. And they would be the people who would be there when I got baptized and officially became a Southern Baptist, the people who would study Scripture with me, the people who would be challenged alongside me, the people who would celebrate with me as I went overseas as a Southern Baptist missionary, the people who would visit me at my Southern Baptist seminary, and the same people who would be there when I said “I do” and became a Southern Baptist pastor’s wife. (And I was a Methodist! Remember?!)
I’m still a follower of Jesus, plain and simple, but I am so immensely thankful for the Baptist Student Ministry. I know my doctrine and theology was shaped by their service, witness, and ministry, long before I even learned how to study Scripture, and as I continue on as a student of God’s Word, I am more and more convinced that God orchestrated it just so, knowing that I would find within the Southern Baptist denomination a place to serve and live in community with others. I don’t know how many lives the BSM at U of H has changed, but I can say confidently that it changed mine forever.
I have young friends who are just beginning their college careers. And I have friends who have kids who are getting ready to begin their college careers. (Yes. I’m officially old.) As I see all these wonderful posts about life changing and this exciting new phase of life beginning for so many, I just want to encourage you personally — yes, you! — to go to your college campus with your eyes open, looking for places like the BSM, where you can be with like-minded believers, where you can be involved, where you can make lasting friendships, and where you can know God better. It’ll make a difference — in your college experience, in your faith, and for the rest of your life.